Tragedy and Triumph
The day before Thanksgiving in 1986, Richard Davis spent the evening at his parents’ house in Hacienda Heights, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. He was with his wife, Theresa, and their kids.
A toilet in the house was dripping and Davis’ father was trying to fix it. “Let me do that for you,” Davis said. “No, no, no. You go home,” his father replied. “Get those kids in bed. We’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
They said their goodbyes and left.
The phone rang as soon as they got home. His parents’ neighbor was on the line. Davis’ dad was in the hospital. He had gone to a hardware store a couple blocks away to get a part to fix the toilet. As he crossed the street, he was hit by a truck. If Davis wanted to see him, he needed to hurry.
By the time he arrived at the hospital, it was too late.
“It has always been one of the sadder things in my life,” Davis said years later, “because I didn’t get to tell him goodbye.”
“I think about that every year around Thanksgiving,” Davis continued. “It made me realize how important it is that the parents of our employees understand the role their children play in the bank’s success.”
“Part of that is my mother in me, wanting to make others feel good,” he went on. “But another part is that I didn’t get to have that with my dad, because he never got to see what I became.”
Davis was named chairman and CEO of U.S. Bancorp two decades later. Over the next 10 years, he transformed the Minneapolis-based bank from a rapidly growing consolidator of banks into the most prudent and profitable major bank in the country.
Today, after stepping down as chairman of U.S. Bancorp in 2018, Davis serves as the CEO of Make-A-Wish America.
No person is immune to tragedy. Its grasp is impossible to escape.
Yet, as painful as it is, tragedy can sow the seeds of triumph. It promotes empathy and understanding. It makes one realize that we all bear its invisible scars.
The hardware store where Davis’ dad was going the night before Thanksgiving in 1986 is no longer there. In its place is a branch of U.S. Bancorp.
• John J. Maxfield, executive editor of Bank Director